Kristin Chenoweth Comes Home

Kristin Chenoweth Comes Home

Kristin Chenoweth stops by USA TODAY to talk about her new album, new broadway show, and what it's like to go home. NEW YORK — Kristin Chenoweth is both a celebrated soprano and a noted dog lover. So there's a certain sad irony in the fact that her own beloved pooch, Madeline Kahn (named after the late entertainer), cannot stand the sound of her mistress' singing. When the Tony Award-winning singer and actress — who recently released her first live album, Coming Home — tries to rehearse in her Manhattanapartment, Maddie "howls and covers her ears with her paws," Chenoweth insists. "I don't know what to do. Should I give her a Benadryl? No — that would not make me a good mommy." Maddie was not, predictably, in attendance when Chenoweth, 46, performed the Aug. 22 and 23 concerts featured on Coming Home, and in the accompanying PBS specialKristin Chenoweth: Coming Home, which premieres Friday on CBS. But Chenoweth's parents were, as was Florence Birdwell, her voice teacher at Oklahoma City University. They didn't have to travel far, as the shows were held in Broken Arrow, Okla., where Chenoweth grew up — at the local performing arts center's Kristin Chenoweth Theatre, thus christened two years ago. During the recording, Chenoweth gives shout-outs to Birdwell and her dad, and also brings the Broken Arrow High School Choir, of which she is an alumna, onstage. "There were, like, eight of us when I was in the choir," recalls the petite, perky blonde, back in New York. "Now there are 40. I bawled when they all came out in rehearsal. Because I remember, I had to be a cheerleader in order to perform." The material on Home spans Chenoweth's diverse influences. There are show tunes — including a couple from the smash Broadway musical Wicked, in which Chenoweth created the role of Glinda — but also gospel, country music and even disco. "I really wanted this to be a career album," Chenoweth says. "I wanted to show my love of Jerome Kern and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Dolly Parton. I'd always wanted to do a live album, because I grew up listening to Judy (Garland)'s and Barbra (Streisand)'s and Bette (Midler)'s." Her favorites also included, naturally, Julie Andrews: "Her twirls on the hill, in The Sound of Music — that's the reason I'm here." Chenoweth will follow in the footsteps of another heroine, Kahn, in February, when she's set to begin performances in a new Roundabout Theatre Company revival of On the Twentieth Century scheduled for a March opening on Broadway. The Cy Coleman/Betty Comden/Adolph Green musical and its leading role, that of film diva Lily Garland, were first recommended to Chenoweth by Birdwell, then later by Comden and Green themselves. Green's widow, Phyllis Neuman "told me, 'This is it, the time is now'" — a plea reiterated by Hugh Jackman, who performed a Roundabout reading with Chenoweth in 2011. (The part Jackman played, stage producer Oscar Jaffee, will be portrayed in the new production by Peter Gallagher.) "Hugh said something so beautiful to me," Chenoweth remembers. "After we were done, I asked him, 'What do you think?' And he said, 'Here's what I think: You have to do this show. This is your part. It's a must.'" Chenoweth allows she is "nervous" about tackling Century. "There's a mountain in front of me. It's operatic in tone, and it's physical comedy — which is what I love to do, but it's going to be demanding." The pride of Broken Arrow is used to embracing challenges and contradictions, in work and life. "I'm a woman. I'm not a little girl in a pink dress anymore — though I'm her, too. I'm a Christian, and I've fouled up many times; I've chosen the wrong guys, chosen the wrong friends, been hurt, hurt people." Approached by young fans for advice, Chenoweth says, "I tell them, 'If you want to be great, then lead with your gift.' My mom said that all the time. Lead with your gift — and lead with your brain."   This article first appeared in USA Today, 2:16 p.m. EST November 25, 2014